Mouryou no Hako (Box of Goblins) is a relatively obscure series revolving around boxes.
The year is 1952. Japan is still struggling to get back on its feet after its crushing defeat in World War II. The old folk beliefs are slowly being overshadowed by emerging modernization. And amidst the lonely hills and fields on the outskirts of Tokyo, boxes containing the severed arms and legs of unknown female victims keep turning up. A small private detective agency gets involved in the investigation, and along with them, a very different sort of detective, the coldly skeptical onmyouji
, Chuuzenji Akihiko.
Meanwhile, a young girl named Yuzuki Kanako has gone missing. Her troubled schoolyard friend Yoriko witnessed her disappear beneath a moving train late at night, pushed onto the tracks by a mysterious gloved assailant. Kanako was taken to a strange box-shaped hospital deep in the nearby hills, only to disappear from her hospital bed as if transformed into air. Her washed-up actress sister has employed haunted ex-soldier Detective Kiba to find the severely crippled girl before it's too late.
And in the pages of an up-and-coming novelist's newest work, a man on a train encounters a gloved passenger carrying a box with a human head inside of it. A head that is, beyond all reason, alive.
Despite gorgeous animation courtesy of Madhouse, and a plot adapted from one of the finest supernatural mystery novels in recent years, this series is still sadly below many people's radars. Plenty of scares and body horror
for all, in addition to long, deep discussions on philosophy, religion, biology, and the human condition. Definitely needs more love
Provides examples of:
- All Myths Are True Maybe.
- Alternate Character Reading
- And I Must Scream Poor, helpless Kanako.
- Anachronism Stew
- A Tragedy of Impulsiveness: How this story starts.
- The Beautiful Elite: Kanako. Subverted later in the story.
- Bishounen: Enokizu Reijiro, the self-proclaimed "detective" who in the novel is often compared to a European porcelain doll. Being roughly 30 years old, he's more Biseinen than Bishonen, but who cares?
- Plus pretty much everyone on the main cast, at least in the anime. (CLAMP did the character designs, after all.) In the novels, Sekiguchi's often called "monkey" by several characters, and Kyougoku is once referred to as "Akutagawa's ghost."
- Body Horror: On the most profound, deep-in-your-soul level possible. For example, how would a head and shoulders kept alive by wires inside a box be able to breathe enough to say "Hou"?
- Buddhism: Early in the story, Kanako tells Yoriko about the concept of Tennin Gosui ("The Five Death Omens of an Angel" or "The Decay of an Angel"), which is found in several Buddhist writings. Unfortunately, Yoriko takes the concept a bit too seriously, with disastrous results.
- Cherry Blossoms: Lots. Especially in the first episode.
- Continuity Nod: Sekiguchi's novel seems at first glance to be a metaphor for what's happening with the Kanako/Kubo case. However, the girl in the book is meant to be Kuonji Ryoko, the tragic figure from the novel before Mouryou, 'Ubume no Natsu.' But most Western viewers will not have read the previous novel, despite it being available in English.
- Dramatic Thunder leading to It Was a Dark and Stormy Night: episode 3 and again in episode 11.
- Cute Kitten: The Chuuzenjis have a cat (named Pomegranite!) that have no relevance at all to the plot but... it's so cute!
- The Four Gods: Referenced in several instances by Chuuzenji.
- Hey, It's That Voice!: Kanako Yuzuki is Haruka Tomatsu
- Hyper Awareness: Chuuzenji.
- Imperial Japan: Most of the main cast fought in World War II (which ended only 7-odd years prior to the start of the story), and Chuuzenji himself was recruited by the infamous Unit 731 (although he didn't get involved in the Unit's more monstrous activities). Mimasaka was also with Unit 731. It's not like the end of the war meant he had to stop his "research", right?
- Les Yay: Yoriko and Kanako
- Mind Screw: To the point where it's almost impossible to figure out what's going on if the viewer hasn't been paying attention well enough. However, the ones who have been paying attention are vastly rewarded for their efforts by a wondrous ending.
- Mr. Exposition: Kyougoku
- Mundane Made Awesome: To the point of abuse. Talking scenes are underlined with tornado-scale gusts of wind, dancing is punctuated with torrential cherry blossoms, and all driving is done as maniacally and erratically as possible, especially when there isn't any semblance of a reason.
- Parent Child Incest: Central part of the shocking truth revealed near the story's end.
- Reincarnation: Kanako believes that she is Yoriko's reincarnation and vice-versa. At the same time. Seriously.
- Which from a certain point of view makes that a Ground Hog Day Loop; because they're reliving the same two lifetimes over and over again...
- Religion is Magic: Averted somewhat. Despite a large amount of attention paid to Shinto, Buddhism and folklore, the mysteries are shown to be psychological or scientific in nature. The series is probably one of the more truthful representations of Onmyodo in anime.
- Religion of Evil: The Cult of Onbako-sama.
- Scenery Porn: Pretty much every background scene is beautiful and creative in both colouring and design.
- Serial Killer: Kubo. If the Ice Truck Killer had lived in the same era, he'd probably be looking up to this nutcase in admiration. Seriously, Kubo's THAT friggin' messed-up.
- Shell-Shocked Veteran: Kiba.
- Sekiguchi, Kiba, Enokizu, and even Chuuzenji were all in the war, although the latter two saw less frontline action than the former pair. Sekiguchi was also Kiba's senior officer (believe it or not).
- Shrines and Temples: A couple are shown, most notably that of the Onbako-sama cult.
- Stoic Spectacles: Sekiguchi is this is in front of other people (even his own wife), though his monologues reveal otherwise.
- Stringy-Haired Ghost Girl: Kanako never comes back as a ghost per say, but the consequences of her tragic fate haunt the minds of the cast, and also serve to spur the plot along.
- Telepathy: The entire first half of an episode chronicles the real-life story of Mifune Chizuko, the Meiji-era psychic whose misfortune also inspired The Ring.
- Unreliable Narrator: Yoriko.
- Unwitting Instigator of Doom: Yoriko.
- Not only does the story tie very closely into the myth of the Mouryou, Chuuzenji gives us a downright etymological and cultural low-down of what "Mouryou" actually means.
- It's extremely important for understanding things later on. It also helps if you know a bit about Onmyodo and kanji, to say the least.